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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

© Estate of Stanton MacDonald Wright
American, 1890 - 1973
Arm Organization
Oil on canvas

36 x 30 3/16 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase

Arts of North America

With his friend Morgan Russell, Stanton Macdonald-Wright developed a style of color abstraction called Synchromy, meaning “with color.” Informed by color theory, Synchromists explored the relationship of color and shapes. The central motif here may suggest a torso or flexed arm; notice the graceful modulations of form and color surrounding the contorted “knot” at the center.

At the age of 19, Macdonald-Wright left his home in Southern California for Paris. He remained overseas for six years, enrolling in a succession of art schools and committing himself to studying and assimilating the most advanced art of his time. In 1911 he met Russell, a fellow American, and they pioneered Synchromism as the only avant-garde movement in Europe established by Americans in the years before World War I. The war forced Macdonald-Wright to return to the United States, where he ultimately settled in Southern California and became a tireless advocate of Modernism.

Macdonald-Wright was convinced that color and sound were equivalent phenomena and that one could orchestrate the colors of a painting the way a composer arranges notes and chords in music. Here, he uses such “chords” of complementary colors as a means of organizing the seemingly abstract composition. Yet, Arm Organization is not entirely abstract, and the potential forms of the curving torso, shoulder, and flexed arm likely derive from Michelangelo’s sculpture Dying Captive, which the artist studied at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.